The sweetest smiles hold the darkest secrets. The endless sighs hold a million reasons. There are always some things in this world that are beyond our comprehension. No matter how much we try to run towards them, we will always return empty handed. The light creeping out of our souls will die out eventually from this thirst and hunger for knowing more, for digging deeply into the reasons of our existence. They say the world, although well-lighted with fluorescent and incandescent bulbs and neon, is still full of odd dark corners and unsettling nooks and crannies. We reach out towards these unsettling nooks. We reach out towards the dark! Why would we want to light the already lighted parts of the world? We crave to discover the darkness inside and around us. When the first time my mother beat me I cried a lot. It was a shock for me that an angel like figure, beneath whose feet is heaven will be so harsh towards her four years old child. Gradually, I started to get used to the beating and whipping. I learned to obey. I was forced to be obedient or she threatened to lock me in the horrible store room. My father ran a small coffee shop in America and I used to live with my mother and my younger siblings in Pakistan. Although I’m an adult, about to reach twenty years of age, I had no right to express myself in my own home. My younger brother and sisters were all bold and full of life, teasing me all the time. My mother had taught them to hate me. They treated me like a foolish slave always ready to cook food for them and wash clothes for them. It’s not like she was my stepmother and I was Cinderella. That’s what hurt the most, the fact that she was not a stepmother and still she acted worse than one.
In my spare time, mostly at night, I used to climb the rooftop and sit there for hours, gazing at the stars; All these infinite balls of fire shining down upon me. I call them my friends as I have no other friend. My mother never let me have any friends and the girls at school called me a freak. They think of shaming me by such insulting names. Little did they know that I don’t even care about their existence and whatever they think?
“Alizeh, come downstairs for dinner.” Mother’s voice rang shrilly and I quickly got up, leaving my cell phone on the bed. Our house is not much big. Two rooms downstairs along with a kitchen and two rooms upstairs and then there is an attic too. The twelve years old twins Selena and Samreen sleeps in the room next to mine and Taha (fifteen years old) sleeps downstairs in the room near the living area. My room was very simple compared to the rest of the marble clad house. It had a wooden antique bed, a wardrobe, dressing table, study table, a huge book shelf and a comfy sofa.
As I sat on the dining table I noticed stiffness in the air. Everyone was calm and eating their chicken Chinese rice. It was strange because usually world wars happen at the dining table. “Why is everyone so quiet?” I asked Selena who was sitting next to me. She shrugged. I frowned and started to eat the delicious rice. Mother always cooks yummy food; well only when she wants to.
“Alizeh!” Mother said sternly.
“Jee Ammi?” (Yes mother?)
“Your father is coming back from America the next week.” I almost jumped from joy. My father is the best person in the entire world. He is the only one who genuinely cares about me. I smiled broadly. Mother continued. “Well, Taha is getting older now and he needs a new room, besides you are old enough to start a family of your own…” My smile slowly turned into a glare. “So when your father returns, we will begin the rishta (marriage proposal) quest for you.” Mother’s face suddenly turned blur as tears welled up in my eyes. I quickly got up and ran out of the room.
I locked my room and sat on the bed as tears started flowing from my eyes. She wants to throw me out of my own house. What about my education? I have to talk to them. I don’t want to get married. I will give Taha my room and live in the attic but I will not leave this house. A part of me tempted to leave this cursed place and explore the world. What a joke! I’ll just move from one house to another and continue my maid job. There is no exploring the world for me. Weeping silently, I put the blanket on top of me and closed my eyes. As the last drop of tear fell from my eye on my arm, I fell asleep.
Those who learn must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the grace of God.
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In the morning, I was more content about my condition. She is my mother and if she wants me to get married then I will get married. I will explore my life with someone else. Maybe my husband’s home is going to be more acceptable than my own home. I was washing dishes when I heard some murmuring in the hallway. Someone was speaking in a hushed voice. I wasn’t interested until I heard my name.
“Alizeh must not know that the guy is 36 years old. She will adjust and besides getting married to an older person makes you more mature and responsible.” It was my mother who was speaking, and then I heard another voice; it was aunty Shameem, one of my mother’s best friends who lives in the neighborhood.
“You are right, Naila. Raising girls is a very big responsibility and it is about time you shift this responsibility into someone else’s hands. You have two other daughters to take care of; at least Alizeh will be out of your way.”
I stopped listening. I just stood there with a china dish in one hand and a sponge in another hand. I just stood still until tears started to roll down my eyes. So, a 36 years old man it is. 16 years older than me. I smiled miserably. There was a storm inside me. I wanted to scream on top of my lungs, I wanted to yell at my mom for being so unfair, to ask her why she hates me so much, why am I a burden on her? I wanted to cry loudly and beg her not to ruin my life, I wanted to push her away, complaint to my father so he can scold her, but instead I kept silent. Good girls must respect their parent’s decisions.
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I was wearing a maroon color bridal dress, with golden embroidery and it was so heavy and so tight that I was feeling really uncomfortable and was unable to breathe. The twins were busy taking photos with their friends, my mom was talking to the guests and Taha was nowhere to be seen. My father was back from America and he agreed to my mother’s decision with a gloomy face. Later he came into my room and tried to comfort me. He told me that they want the best for me. Girls must get married early or they face a lot of problems. He promised that he will visit me every month and even I can visit them after marriage. My father hugged me and I cried for a long time. I didn’t want to get married. I wanted him to understand but he had made his mind and a man’s mind is not weak like a woman’s mind they say, so there was no use of pleading him.
The bridegroom was an older person but he was good looking and when he smiled at me my heart skipped a beat. He had such a warm and charming smile. He was holding my hand when we were sitting on the stage, watching as people paraded before us, in their fancy dresses and caked faces, giving each other fake smiles and fake compliments, dancing like animals happy after a successful hunt. They had no clue what I was going through. I had spent twenty years of my life with my family and now they are turning their backs on me like I am a stranger, a burden they cannot handle anymore. So instead I looked at Hamza for support, my husband who is going to make me happy, who is going to be my new family. I wasn’t excited that I was going to start a new life. I was in purgatory and there was no way to escape. I sneered as my parents bid me goodbye and my siblings started to cry that they are going to miss me. There were no tears in my eyes and at that moment I decided to end all my ties with them. I will never visit them again. I will make them miss me for real but will they really miss me or they will move on with their lives? Taha will take over my room and they will all rejoice that a burden named Alizeh is gone from their lives for good.
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The room was decorated with red roses. Hamza’s family tried to make me feel comfortable and was joking around. They seemed very happy but I was tired. I told no one that I am feeling tired. They chatted with me for a while and then left the room. Hamza entered the room and locked the door. He smiled at me and asked me how I was feeling. Was I allowed to tell him that I am extremely exhausted and wanted to sleep for eternity? I smiled and said that I am good. He placed the palm of his hand on my cheek and said that he is very happy today and that I am a very beautiful girl. I said nothing and pretended that I was blushing. Mom once said men like women who are shy and blush more often. Hamza then took out a box from the drawer next to the bed and opened it. There was a delicate golden locket inside with a pendent having the initials of Hamza’s name.
“I want you to never take off this locket as it is a proof that you belong to me, you are my wife and only mine, my precious butterfly.”
I felt a chill run down my spine and as Hamza put the locket around my neck I felt like he was going to strangle me. I was claustrophobic at that time and I wanted to run out and breathe in the fresh air. I was sweating all of a sudden and different emotions were taking hold over me with nausea and dread being the most dominant emotions. He kissed me slowly on the lips and I screamed with agony for the rest of the night.
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Life at Hamza’s house had its ups and downs. I didn’t use to have much time thinking about my miserable situation and that kept me going. Hamza used to take care of me, he used to take me out and there were times when we used to laugh out loud. We were in love with each other at first. He used to love me because I was able to fulfill his needs and desires. I loved him because he was very caring and he used to make me laugh. However, I also went through those days when his mother used to tell him to be strict with me and keep me in my limits. Under his mother’s influence Hamza used to beat me in order to keep me in my limits. It was completely fine. I was used to beating. My mother used to beat me all the time but I used to get very hurt because I loved Hamza and his harshness was unbearable for me and his hand was much heavier than my mother’s hand.
I still remember that day when I was crying in the kitchen while cooking food for Hamza’s family. Hamza came quietly to the kitchen. I shuddered as he wrapped his hands around my waist and kissed my neck as he apologized for his behavior.
“I am a bad person, please forgive me. I promise I will make up for it. You are my precious butterfly and I love you.”
And just like that I used to forgive him even though I knew he will never keep his promise. I used to forgive him because I had no other choice.
As time passed, he stopped apologizing for his behavior altogether. It was normal to get beaten. He was providing me all the facilities of life and his presence was a blessing for me. Without a man it was very difficult for women like me to survive because I had no home of my own, I had no sufficient education. I was completely dependent on my husband. Therefore I was supposed to bear his outbursts and keep silent because I had no other choice. I had buried my dreams and aspirations long ago. I wanted to get higher education. I wanted to explore the world and enjoy every little thing in life. I wanted every day to be different from the previous day but now every day was the same for me. They say the universe is huge and there are people out there who explore the world and live according to their own rules. They are not dependent on anyone to make them feel happy and secured. No one can take important decisions for them, no one can silence them. There are strong people out there and I wasn’t one of them. I used to think that I am Cinderella and one day my prince charming will rescue me and then we will live happily ever after, then all my dreams will come true. Little did I know that my happily ever after is going to be so terrible.
I remember how during our intimate times Hamza used to call me his precious butterfly but he had no idea how much I wish to fly away from him.